When You Mess Up

Everybody makes mistakes. When you make an error, what’s your first thought? Do you immediately take responsibility for it? Perhaps you try to cover it up before anyone notices. Maybe you wait and see if someone will even notice or perhaps take responsibility for it themself. Worse yet, are you one of those people who intentionally try to blame others for your errors?

Okay so some mistakes are bigger than others and some by consequence have more financial implications. While that’s true, taking responsibility early for mistakes – ESPECIALLY THE BIG ONES – shows you to be a person of integrity. Now I know what you might be thinking; “If I get fired for admitting I goofed up, at least I’ll have my integrity! I should have kept my big mouth shut and lost my integrity but kept my job!”

Owning up to errors is part of the growing experience. A good Supervisor or Manager will only put an employee in a position that they are able to succeed or possibly fail with calculated risks that the company can survive. For example, if you are being asked to head up some promotional campaign for a new product of one of your company’s clients, you can safely assume somebody higher up in the organizational chart thinks you can do the job. After all, the don’t want to lose the client now do they? Not only do they think you can do the job, but if there are regular meetings along the way scheduled to check on your ideas and your progress, input from the client or senior personnel can act as safeguards to ensure the end product is in line with what the client will be happy with.

The more responsibility you are given, the more you probably have earned it, and that’s something to be proud of. Newer junior employees often start out with very limited responsibility because if they make errors, others around them can catch them in time, minimize the impact on the organization and hopefully the person learns from the experience.

And more than anything else, LEARNING FROM YOUR MISTAKES is really a fabulous way to grow as an individual and position yourself to move on and up in an organization. Most of the people at or near the top of an organziation have made considerable mistakes in their rise, but they were able to learn the lessons along the way, and minimized repeating the same error. For this reason, it’s helpful to at some point pause and think about an error you made and consider where in the decision-making or implementing phase something started to go wrong. Maybe you didn’t bring in the right people on a project. Perhaps a miscalculation in a budget, a formula, an estimate etc. is where the error occurred.

One of the worst things anyone can do however, is fail to acknowledge their error when it has a direct impact on clients or customers. Should a customer bring some issue to your attention directly, there is usually but not always, an initial window of opportunity where you can appease and perhaps even please the customer or client. In other words, the client or customer is usually willing to see what your response will be to the problem. Right the wrong and you can often impress. However fail to acknowledge or take responsibility including an apology, and now you run the risk of losing the customer and having your name and that of your company badmouthed.

Now if you have the ability to FORESEE problems before they arise, or potential problems, you might want to inform anyone else who will possibly be affected in order to alert them. This action can be very beneficial in that it gets others more watchful for any small issue BEFORE the issue grows.  Not every Supervisor will appreciate being told directly when you mess up, but the best Supervisors will. Of course there is a limit to how often you should be making errors and if you are constantly messing up it could be that you’re in way over your head in the first place and you might well consider a change in jobs, responsibilities, employers etc. Doing this is not an admission of yourself as a failure but rather, a sign of your wisdom and recognition that you would be better suited doing something different.

Imagine then going to an interview and being asked, “Tell me about a time you messed up and how did you respond to your error?” The interviewer is not so much interested in the error you made ironically, but rather your response to realizing your mistake. What did you do? Did you fix it alone? Did you preserve a relationship with a client or even improve it in the end with your actions? Did you own up to the gaff or turn your head, whistle to the ceiling and with your hands in your pockets, casually walk away?

Lastly, when others around you have their moment in the spotlight and make mistakes, realize that they might already be stressed, worried or embarrassed. Not much will be gained by making them feel even worse by talking about it extensively. How you support or ridicule someone at this time often says more about you then them. And of course what goes around comes around.

I”ll leave the blog today with this then; Mess up? Fess up!